Don’t think you’re done. Or at least, don’t think you have to be.
Hunting for small game species like rabbits, squirrels and pheasants ends on Tuesday. The same is true for deer in the latest archery, flintlock and extended firearms seasons around. Already off limits are grouse, foxes, raccoons and bobcats.
And gobblers? Spring turkey season is still more than two months away.
One animal remains fair game, though: the coyote. And while many don’t realize it, some of the best – and most underutilized – hunting is still to come.
“When is the best time to target coyotes in the Northeast? I say turkey season, late May into June. And even earlier, in April,” said Abner Druckenmill, the Mifflin County resident who stars on the Outdoor Channel show FOXPRO Furtakers.
Food is the reason, he said.
The same coyotes that have to scrounge for chipmunks, mice and other small prey throughout the rest of the year suddenly have newborn turkey poults and whitetail fawns to feast on, he said. Their eagerness to take advantage of that seasonal bounty makes spring a great time to chase them, he added.
The best place to hunt is in a location with coyotes, obviously, said Mike Huff of Lehigh County, author of “Understanding Coyotes: The Comprehensive Guide for Hunters, Photographers and Wildlife Observers” and a registered predator guide.
But, he said, coyotes move a lot, sometimes covering 10 miles in a night. They can be hard to pin down. So he scouts by talking to landowners. If there are coyotes around, they’ll know it.
“I always say if a farmer tells you something, pay attention because it’s true,” Huff said.
Druckenmiller likewise tries to always “have open ears.” When he was younger, for example, he refereed youth baseball games. Sometimes, between innings, when parents “weren’t yelling at me for a bad call or something,” they would talk about having seen or heard coyotes.
“I’d be like, yeah, where do you live at,” he said.
Farms, especially those raising chickens, turkeys and hog, are all great to hunt, Druckenmiller said. They naturally draw predators. But state game lands and state forest lands can be hot spots, too.
They key is to have lots of options, he added. It’s a “numbers game,” he said, with the more places a hunter has to try, the better.
Wherever he’s at, he seeks edges – powerlines, fencerows, food plots, agricultural fields, log landings, clear cuts – and sets up downwind of the caller.
Neither he nor Huff spend a lot of time on a particular stand. At most they’re in one location for an hour; as often as not, it’s 20 minutes.
Always, they’re hunting at night. Huff said that’s just a reflection of how coyotes live.
“Over 80 percent of their movement is in the dark,” he noted. “So if you want to kill one, you’re going to do a lot better hunting them in the dark.”
Both men use a combination of electronic and hand calls. Each has a sequence of calls they prefer, too.
Huff’s is a little heavier on coyote howls than “prey in distress” sounds, means to mimic a small mammal or bird dying. He just thinks they work a tad better, especially where predators hear a lot of the same thing.
“Not that prey distress doesn’t work. They both work and you can call coyotes in with either,” he said.
“But if I had to bet a million dollars on some guy and I was telling him how to hunt, my money would probably be on coyote vocalizations.”
They’re especially effective in spring, Druckenmiller added.
Huff hunts a lot of farms. As a result, his call sequence includes noise interspersed with periods of silence.
Druckenmiller sometimes hunts typical Pennsylvania woods, where visibility is limited, so he wants his call working all the time.
“Because if that coyote is coming in, when I’m calling in the middle of the mountains, and I shut the sound off, what’s he going to do? He’s going to stop. He wants confirmation, to either see something or smell something,” Druckenmiller said. “He may stop before I can ever see him.”
That’s when many hunters get busted, he said, so he tries to keep that animal on the move.
One thing both men agree on is that they never turn off their lights – always red ones – when hunting.
A good light not only picks up a coyote’s eyes hundreds of yards out, Huff said, but also effectively hides the hunter standing behind it.
“The second you get their eyes, you never, and I mean never, never, never, never ever have a second when their eyes are not glowing at you. Because the second that you don’t see glow coming off their eyes, they can see you,” Huff said. “They’ll see you standing there.”
And once that happens, they’re gone, he said. He’s often called back foxes after being noticed that way. But not wary coyotes.
“I can go out west and kill coyotes simple. The eastern coyote, if I live to be 100, they’re always going to be smarter than I am,” Huff said.
That’s the fun, though, Druckenmiller said, especially as winter turns into spring and early summer.
“Those are great times to hunt coyotes,” he said.